Expressive therapies

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The expressive therapies are the use of the creative arts as a form of therapy, including the distinct disciplines expressive arts therapy and the creative arts therapies (art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, poetry therapy, and psychodrama). Unlike traditional arts expression, the process of creation is emphasized rather than the final product. The expressive therapies are based on the assumption that people can heal through the various forms of creative expression. Expressive therapists share the belief that through creative expression and the tapping of the imagination, people can examine their body, feelings, emotions, and thought process.

Definition and credentialing[edit]

Expressive arts therapy is the practice of using imagery, storytelling, dance, music, drama, poetry, movement, horticulture, dreamwork, and visual arts together, in an integrated way, to foster human growth, development, and healing.[1] Expressive arts therapy is its own distinct therapeutic discipline, an inter-modal discipline where the therapist and client move freely between drawing, dancing, music, drama, and poetry.[2]

According to the National Organization for Arts in Health (NOAH), what distinguishes the six creative arts therapies — art, dance/movement, drama, music and poetry therapy as well as psychodrama—from expressive arts therapy is that expressive arts therapy interventions are designed to include more than one of the "expressive" art forms[3] (art, dance, drama, music, poetry), whereas creative arts therapists, such as art, dance/movement, drama, music, poetry and psychodrama therapists, are often intensively trained and educated to use only one modality in their practice.[4]: 6–7  But NOAH also acknowledged that the terms "are often used interchangeably in the field", and that in any case all such professionals should collaborate closely.[4]: 10, 18, 22 

The International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA) is the responsible organization handling the credentialing of expressive arts therapists.[5]

The National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Association (NCCATA) connects all six modalities of the creative arts therapies. However, each modality of the creative arts therapies has its own national association that regulates professional credentials, establishes educational standards and hosts annual conferences for the purpose of exchanging new ideas and research.[6]


Each national association of the different modalities of expressive therapies sets its own educational standards. In the United States, there are a fair number of colleges that offer approved programs in compliance with the national associations' credentialing requirements.

There are 37 universities for music therapy,[7] 34 universities for art therapy,[8] seven universities for dance/movement therapy,[9] and five universities for drama therapy,[10] as well as 5 universities for expressive arts therapy,[11] that have approved master's degree programs in the United States. In addition, the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) has 75 undergraduate music therapy programs approved.[7] Once finished with an academic degree, potential therapists have to apply for credentialing at the responsible national association.

Creative arts therapies modalities[edit]

There are six creative arts therapy modalities, recognized by the NCCATA, including art therapy, dance therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, poetry therapy and psychodrama.[6] In some areas, the terms Creative Arts Therapy and Creative Arts Therapist may only be used by those who are properly licensed, as is the case in the State of New York. [12]

Art therapy[edit]

Art therapy combines psychotherapy and visual art. The creative process as well as the created art piece serves as a foundation for self-exploration, understanding, acceptance and eventually healing and personal growth. The creative act in therapy therefore can be seen as a means of re-experiencing inner conflict connected to resolution.[13]

Dance/movement therapy[edit]

Like other creative arts therapy modalities, dance/movement therapy is based on the assumption that "mind, body and spirit are inseparable and interconnected" (ADTA).[14] Movement is the primary tool of intervention in a therapy session, but dance/movement therapy also uses the art of play in therapy. Like other creative art therapies it uses primarily nonverbal communication.[14]

Drama therapy[edit]

A psychotherapist using Expressive Therapy with a client, to communicate through characters

Drama therapy refers to the combination of the two disciplines drama/theatre and psychotherapy.[15] Drama Therapy, as a hybrid of both disciplines, uses theater techniques to treat individuals with mental health, cognitive, and developmental disorders.[16] Through the art of play and pretend, patients gain perspective in therapy to their life experiences, which in the field is referred to as "aesthetic distance".[17]

Music therapy[edit]

Music therapy is the use of music, music-making, or other music-related interventions within a therapeutic relationship. Music therapy is a broad field with many areas and populations to specialize in. A holistic practice, music therapy can address emotional/psychological, cognitive, communication, motor, sensory, pain, social, behavioral, end of life, and even spiritual needs. This is due in part to music being processed in many areas of the brain. Music therapy helps patients "communicate, process difficult experiences, and improve motor or cognitive functioning" (Jenni Rook, MT-BC, LCPC, 2016).[18] When used as psychotherapy, at its core, music therapy may use music as a symbolic representation and expression of the psychological world of the individual.[19]

Poetry therapy[edit]

Poetry therapy (also referred to using the broader term bibliotherapy) stands out from other creative arts therapies, which are all based on the assumption of the existence of a language that functions without words. Poetry therapy, however, is the use of the written word to bring healing and personal growth.[20]


Psychodrama is a distinct form of psychotherapy developed by Jacob L. Moreno in the early 20th century. Moreno, a trained psychoanalyst himself, had the goal of creating a more effective, action-based form of psychoanalysis as developed by Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung. He developed a clear three phase structure (warm up, action, sharing) to his therapy as well as multiple intervention-methods that are still used by psychodrama therapists today.[21]

Although related, psychodrama and drama therapy describe different modalities within the field of creative arts therapies.[22] Whereas psychodrama uses real-life experience of the patients in therapy to "practice new and more effective roles and behaviors" (ASGPP),[21] drama therapy lets the patients explore more fictional stories, such as improvised scenes, myths or fairy tales.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Appalachian Expressive Arts Collective, 2003, Expressive Arts Therapy: Creative Process in Art and Life. Boone, North Carolina: Parkway Publishers. p. 3.
  2. ^ Malchiodi, Cathy A. (2003). Expressive Therapies. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 1-59385-379-3.
  3. ^ "What is the difference between art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, poetry therapy, and expressive arts therapy?". IEATA. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Arts, health and well-being in America". National Organization of Arts in Health (NOAH). 2017. Retrieved 2018-08-10.
  5. ^ "REAT Registered Expressive Arts Therapist". Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  6. ^ a b "About NCCATA". National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  7. ^ a b "Organization Directory Search Results". Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  8. ^ "Art Therapy Master's Education – American Art Therapy Association". American Art Therapy Association. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  9. ^ "Approved Graduate Programs | ADTA". ADTA. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  10. ^ "Accredited Schools". Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  11. ^ "Master Degree in Expressive Arts Therapy". Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  12. ^ New York State Education Department, Office of the Professions. "Creative Arts Therapy License Requirements". Mental Health Practitioners: Creative Arts Therapy License Requirements. Retrieved 11 Nov 2020.
  13. ^ Jones, Phil (2005). The arts therapies : a revolution in healthcare. Hove, East Sussex [England]: Brunner-Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 1583918132. OCLC 54881831.
  14. ^ a b "What is Dance/Movement Therapy?". ADTA. 2014-11-08. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  15. ^ J., Landy, Robert (1996). Essays in drama therapy : the double life. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 1–4. ISBN 1853023221. OCLC 32969359.
  16. ^ "MA in Drama Therapy – Drama Therapy – NYU Steinhardt". Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  17. ^ Landy, Robert J. (1983-09-01). "The use of distancing in drama therapy". The Arts in Psychotherapy. 10 (3): 175–185. doi:10.1016/0197-4556(83)90006-0. ISSN 0197-4556.
  18. ^ "6 Ways Music Eases Anxiety". Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  19. ^ Tony, Wigram (2002). A comprehensive guide to music therapy : theory, clinical practice, research, and training. Pedersen, Inge Nygaard., Bonde, Lars Ole. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 11, 35–36. ISBN 1417505249. OCLC 55091497.
  20. ^ Blank, Barbara Trainin (2013-12-12). "Poetry Therapy: Using Words to Heal". Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  21. ^ a b "What is Psychodrama" (PDF). American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama.
  22. ^ Kedem-Tahar, Efrat; Felix-Kellermann, Peter (1996). "Psychodrama and drama therapy: A comparison". The Arts in Psychotherapy. 23 (1): 27–36. doi:10.1016/0197-4556(95)00059-3. ISSN 0197-4556.

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